A new Scottish Government campaign is making people aware of social security and how a change in life circumstances and life events, such as having a family, bereavement or becoming a carer for a family member, can mean they are entitled to benefits.
Fiona and Jonathan Fisher receive a range of support, including a Carers Allowance and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). They explain how this has helped them and how the support has changed over the year’s depending on their circumstances.
Fiona said: “Jonathan has a genetic syndrome called Lowe Syndrome that has affected him since birth, causing physical, learning and sensory disabilities. We claimed for DLA when he was three months old and once we got that for Jonathan, I claimed for Carer’s Allowance. When he turned five we were allowed to claim for Mobility Allowance and when he was 16 we applied for ESA as he is incapable of working.”
She explained how the benefits have helped her and her son through the difficult times: “It helps pay for extra costs because of his disabilities, such as heating, hot water and laundry, sensory and special play equipment,” Fiona said.
“When he got his Motability car that was a great boost to have a reliable car for getting him about, plus we needed help with purchasing a wheelchair and other postural equipment.”
Finding out what support you are entitled to can often be a challenge, but there is advice available to guide you.
Fiona continued: “Our health visitor advised us about DLA and subsequent Carer’s Allowance when Jonathan was three months old. We learned from other parent carers about being able to apply for Mobility allowance, but the Department of Work and Pensions also included information about it when we renewed Jonathan’s DLA claim at age five.
“We did a benefit health check-up over the phone through the charity Contact a Family at age 16 and they advised us to claim for ESA and give up our child allowance as you can’t claim them both at the same time, and the ESA was paid at a higher rate than child allowance.
“More broadly we also claimed children’s allowance for our three children and got child tax credits for a while when we were eligible for them - it depended on our work circumstances and income at the time.”
Fiona urges people to apply and says there are people available to help: “Applying can be daunting and stressful if you don’t feel confident but there are welfare advisors to help you complete a form or help you to appeal if the decision doesn’t go your way.
“When I first applied for DLA they turned us down but when Jonathan was age three months we were doing physiotherapy, therapy for blind children and dealing with his contact lenses whilst he was failing to thrive because he had difficulties feeding and putting on weight. I never did any of these things with my older daughter, so I wrote back showing the extra things we were doing over and above usually looking after a baby and they agreed and awarded him DLA.”
Often there is a fear of stigma with applying for social security but Fiona urges people to recognise that they are an entitlement.
She continued: “If you think you qualify – check the rules or ask someone if you qualify – the money is yours by right and can help your income improve. Claiming benefits can also be about getting your National Insurance stamp paid, or being able to claim a State Pension in the future. Sometimes getting one benefit opens up a gate to entitlement to another benefit such as being able to apply for a blue parking badge, or funding to do an ILA course, discounted tickets or membership fees, a council bus pass.”
She added: “Benefits are not a handout and not charity; they’re set aside for the reasons you apply, whether it’s illness, disability, unemployment, housing or whatever reason.”
Social Security - key messages
Find out if you’re eligible for this support
Make sure you’re getting the help you’re entitled to
Social security is an investment in everyone and is there to help people when they need it
Changes in life circumstances and life events mean anybody could need support at some point in their lives (i.e. it could apply to any of us one day)
Citizens Advice Scotland can provide further information, visit https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/scotland/benefits/ or call the Citizens Advice Free Benefits Helpline on 0800 085 7145.